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May 25th, 2006

A Magical Mother’s Day

Mom and Amber have been after me to record the crazy goings-on of our Mother's Day weekend trip out to Natchez, MS. Lots of strange things happened - some mundane and some haunting - but all of them interesting.

We set out late Saturday afternoon, planning to find a room, get some grub and head out to the Trace early the next morning. We were in Amber's lime green Volkswagen bug, which, sadly, is falling apart. Still, it's roomy, the a/c works, it has a sunroof and a killer sound system and it moved, so no one was complaining. We were halfway to Mississippi when Amber noticed something odd in the back seat where she was sitting.

"Who fixed this?!" she said. "Mom, when did you put this back on?"

I turned around and she was pointing to some plastic piece attached to the back of the driver's side, secure where it should be.

"I didn't," Mom said. "When would I have had time? It takes a lot of work to get that thing back on."

I shrugged at them both. "So maybe someone did it a few days ago and you didn't realize." I couldn't quite fathom the reason for their puzzlement; it didn't seem like a very big deal.

"No, Shan," my sister said, "You don't understand. It was broken off when we picked you up a few hours ago. When we got to your house, it was off. And you can't just put it back on, it takes a bit of work."

Neither of us three had fixed it, and there'd been no one else home or around when they picked me up. I grinned, "It's a sign," I said. "We're going to have a good, haunting time, I think, and someone's just letting us know we're being watched out for."

None of realized how true that would turn out to be.

There was still a good bit of daylight when we arrived in Natchez, so we decided to make our way out to the Trace for just a minute and look around. The very first stop we made, right off of the highway, is where we found the Brandon children cemetery. We also drove down to the Emerald Mound, just to tick that off our list. It was quite something to stand in a place where civilizations thrived as far back as the 1300s.

We drove back to Natchez and around the quaint downtown area, and started stopping and asking for available rooms. As luck would have it, there was a classic car convention going on and everything was booked up; Natchez isn't a very large place.

Darkness was falling and we'd been putting off going to the one place a helpful Ramada worker had told us would have available rooms: The Excellent Inn. Something about it just didn't sound very "excellent". We stopped at the Tourist Information Center and Amber grabbed a booklet. She began calling local places, on her cell phone, she found ads for as we drove around.

"Oh my god," she said, hanging up her cell with a push of a button; a look of disgust on her face. "There are rooms at the Excellent Inn, but I don't want to go there! The guy who answered the phone sounded really scary." There was no need to worry, it seemed, because we couldn't find the place anyway.

We then passed a Passport Suites that didn't look too full up. Mom and Amber went to check and, sure enough, there were rooms available. As I waited for them in the car, I noticed a LED-light sign flashing over the front desk that read "Welcome to Executive Suites". Odd, I thought, perhaps they hadn't yet changed the sign out front.

By time they got back to the car, Amb was visibly upset. "Mom!" she exclaimed, giggling despite herself at the absurdity of the situation. "Did you look at the receipt you signed? At the top it said The Excellent Inn! We're at the Excellent Inn!"

We wondered, if something happened, how we'd tell people where to find us. "We're at the Passport-Executive-Excellent Inn & Suites!"

When we got to the room, the phone had a tag on it that read "Prentiss Suites". Hungry, and not wanting to spend more time than we had to in the Passport-Executive-Excellent-Prentiss Inn & Suites, we found a local Ruby Tuesday's and had a bland dinner. It honestly wasn't very pleasant - the food wasn't good and I haven't been in a place that greasy since the last time I ate a truck stop restaurant; everything was coated in a thick sheen of grease.

The next morning, we headed out - glad to be leaving the multi-named hotel where dubious characters had partied around us late into the night. We had a very early breakfast at the local Shonney's, and then headed on over to Wal-Mart for supplies.

We were going to try and do rubbings of the headstones, and bought paper and charcoal (it ended up not working out as we'd planned). As we walked in, I had an idea. "Let's buy a dozen roses," I said. "For the children's graves. I bet no one's put flowers on their graves in years." Not hard to believe, since they all died over 150 years ago. We all thought it was a good idea.

We picked out a set of beautiful roses; soft peach in color. It was overcast outside, threatening rain, as we piled back into the Bug. Leaving the Wal-Mart parking lot, out of nowhere, two doves flew at the car. Mom slammed on her brakes, narrowly avoiding both of them, who lifted up and off at just the right moment to avoid slamming into our car. It was odd, but we didn't realize just how odd until Amber said, "Those were doves!"

Eleven year-old twins, Agnes and Sarah Brandon, died about eleven months apart in 1862. Atop the headstone of the first one that perished, Agnes, are two beautiful doves. Atop the second headstone, of her sister, Sarah, are two dead doves. It was chilling, haunting and heartbreaking to see. So it gave us all goosebumps to realize, moments after we'd purchased roses for their graves, two doves flew out of no where and nearly slammed into our car.

After copying down all of the information on the graves in the cemetery so that I could research them, we headed out. A terrible storm picked up as we reached Port Gibson; raining so hard we almost had to pull over. Moments later, as we turned into Port Gibson, we realized the storm had been even worse than we'd experienced. The roads were covered in leaves - as if someone had shredded grass over them - and trees and limbs were down. Though we were right next to Port Gibson, we never experienced the brunt of the storm. Someone was, indeed, looking out for us.

It became the running theme of the day. There's a lot of hills and bluffs in Mississippi, so there aren't many connecting roads. If you're on a road, you're on it for 30 minutes to an hour because you have to drive around huge bluffs just to get anywhere. There was a lot of endless driving and just when we didn't know where we were or were sure we were lost, we'd all of a sudden end up right where we wanted to be! It was how we found The Windsor Ruins and the ghost town of Rodney.

Was it a magical trip?  It certainly was.  We felt it from the start.  I think we'll have to do it again next year.

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